What Signing Means to Me by Alex Grainger

What does signing mean to me? Well, as of April this year it means a huge amount as I am finally following a career path I dreamed about since I was 18. In 2000 I had attended an open day at Bristol University where I was considering a place on the Deaf Studies course there. Unfortunately, circumstances meant I chose a different course nearer to home and my dream of learning BSL was shelved for a number of years.

Then, in 2020, like many people who were suddenly at home during lockdown I decided to use my ‘spare time’ to learn a new skill. I’d volunteered with my local scouting group before lockdown and as part of the disability awareness badge we had learnt the Beaver promise in BSL, and then performed it in our local church as part of the service. That was it, my interest was reignited but I had no idea how to access BSL courses. Thankfully twitter helped me out, my local comprehensive started tweeting about their students who had enrolled in an online basic BSL course during lockdown so I followed the link they posted. Very nervously I enrolled on the online BSL course offered for a £3 donation and off I went. I found I really enjoyed learning signs and spent hours looking at other signs on YouTube, regional variations fascinating me. My family got used to walking into the kitchen and finding me in front of the laptop practicing signing or finding the bathroom mirror missing as I borrowed it to watch myself sign.

Then once I’d completed the course, I realised it was all very well knowing signs for colours, fruit and vegetables and other key words, but this didn’t mean I could hold a conversation with another BSL user. How likely was it I would come across a BSL user in the supermarket that would be willing to stand and have a conversation with me? If I actually had the nerves to approach and ask a perfect stranger in the first place. I’d just started learning signs and I knew I wanted to do more than practice in front of the mirror but felt I’d hit another obstacle. So, back I went to the Internet and researched sign language courses near me. Luckily Signature had the tool to help with a list of local courses and how to get in touch. I fired off two emails to the courses more local to me and waited.  It didn’t take long for a reply from one, thanking me for my interest and giving me information about a course starting in a few months.

I honestly have never been so nervous in my life walking into the room, what if I couldn’t remember anything and was utterly useless at this? After waiting so long to learn I’d all but convinced myself I shouldn’t bother…

..Two years later I have just completed Signatures level 2 qualification and will continue to study towards my Level 3. Best of all, I am now a Teaching Assistant working for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired Service of my local council. I’m not a perfect signer, quite often I have to ask colleagues and students what a sign for something is, but they are so supportive that the nerves have vanished. I know I’ve got a very long way to go as my signing develops but I’ve never been happier.

So, I guess signing means more to me than I ever thought it could.

(Please note: This blog has been written by an independent author not associated with Signature, any and all views expressed are that of the independent author who does speak on Signature’s behalf.)

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